Archive for 2007

Discovering Nutella

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

This week, I would like to introduce you to the wonders of Nutella, if you still haven’t been lucky enough to try the stuff. I grew up yearning for it, as mine was probably the only Italian household where it was forbidden. My parents would mention something about it being unhealthy and too processed, every time I would throw a hissy fit in the supermarket aisle. I do thank my mom these days, since I would probably be at least 60 lbs heftier, had Nutella been a part of my adolescent diet. As much as I crave great, dark chocolate as an adult, as a teenager I would overdose on anything and everything cocoa, insisting on quantity – and definitely NOT quality. But Nutella is a great treat, albeit it one that should be consumed sparsely. Reading the list of ingredients is enough to scare any sensible adult… Anyway, Nutella is available in some supermarkets and at Little Italy’s grocer extraordinaire Di Palo.

Best on bread, or in crepes, Nutella can be eaten with slices of banana or on strawberries. Chef Rocco DiSpirito has the best idea, by spreading some slices of banana on one half of a buttered French baguette, then sprinkling it with sugar and broiling it for a couple of minutes, just enough to caramelize the banana slices a bit. He then broils the other half of the baguette, enough to toast the bread, and waits for the whole thing to cool down. Then he spreads Nutella on the pieces of bread with no banana slices on them and sprinkles a little touch of “Fleur de Sel” – harvested sea salt from Normandie. You can skip this step if the salt is too difficult to find, or the idea of salty sweet doesn’t appeal to you. Press the slices together and you’ve got a delicious snack, or even a cute picnic sandwich to share with your friends.

For more on the fun and extravagant cooking style of great chef Rocco DiSpirito, click on Rocco’s Cookbook.

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Lychee Mania

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

I am totally addicted to lychees these days. They are those little, white-fleshed, fragrant fruits that are covered by a hard, pinkish, bumpy shell. Originally from mainland China, they are now grown right here in the US, mainly in Florida. Their flavor is what I can only describe as a mixture of pure sugar cane juice and rose cologne. I just found out that Trader Joe’s – my favorite all around shopping destination – has some wonderful canned lychees available, packed in syrup and at their usually affordable prices. Lychees make excellent drinks and desserts. For some great drink recipes, check out this site I just found, dedicated to “all things lychees”. Click on LycheesOnline for more info. My personal favorites are the “Lychee Martini”and the “Lychee Mint Champagne”, which can be totally done with an Italian Prosecco or the Spanish version, Cava. But a new personal preferred dessert is the one I just tried at Chinese Mirch, here in NYC’s Curry Hill. Just get some plain, supermarket variety vanilla ice cream and scoop it in the middle of a medium sized plate. Add the lychees whole all around, making a complete circle and serve, with a sprig of mint for decoration. It is phenomenally delicious and will add an exotic touch to any meal.

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Make Your Resolutions for 2008

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

It is nearing the end of 2007 and a new year is just around the corner! My ritual, right around this time every year, is to write down my New Year’s Resolutions. You might want to do the same. It’s a great way to look back on all your have achieved in the past year – by checking last year’s writing – and also a good way to look forward to the future, by setting goals and targets for yourself. I try to be realistic with my own resolutions, but I do usually throw in something completely wacky and extravagant, and funny enough, those are usually the ones whose goals are met! Try it out with me, it’s fun, cleansing, very meditative and a great way to spend those dark afternoon hours on New Year’s Day, when your body needs some R & R after the partying and merriment of the night before. I’ll give you an outline of mine for the coming year. It doesn’t matter if you write it on your computer, your personal journal, or on a cocktail napkin using lipstick – possibly a shade that you will be resolving “never to use again”, just as long as you write it from your heart.

Nina’s New Year’s Resolutions:

1 ) – Be more accepting of my own faults and more forgiving of the faults of others.

2 ) – Run more, to stay in shape, as it has turned out to be the very best exercise routine for my body. Increase my stamina, from running twice around Tompkins Square Park, to maybe as much as a couple of miles. But do this steadily and without pushing my body too fast, too soon. And when the weather just gets too cold, or too hot, practice more Yoga, at Integral Yoga, right in the West Village.

3 ) – Continue to eat healthy but include more fish in my diet. The fatty acids and fish oils in some seafood make a big difference in a vegetarian diet, to feed the brain and keep the arteries healthy and clear. Supplement my diet by drinking my Emergen-C vitamins and taking my chelated calcium chews every day.

4 ) – Write more each day and spread my “you don’t have to be married to be joyous and complete” message, to more and more people. Hopefully, well, this is my long shot right here, get “Happily Unmarried Ever After – a Real Life Fairy Tale for the Modern Woman” published…

5 ) – Thank God each and every day for all that I have, particularly in emotional goods. My friends and close family are my strength and my joy! And you know who you are!!

6 ) – Horseback ride at least one long week, during this coming summer, in Wyoming or Montana. I crave the open spaces with a frisky horse who wants to saunter around the grass and briskly climb up some rocky hillside. Horseback riding is to me both fantastic physical exercise and incredible emotional therapy. I do try to get out to the Kensington Stables in Brooklyn, from time to time, but there is nothing like dealing with a western horse, polite, stoic, responsive and well mannered. And when you know you have conquered his or her trust, it just makes you feel like a BILLION dollars!

7 ) – Become more minimalist in my home and shopping habits. I am currently pretty good at saving, but there is always a lot of room for improvement. And my shoe closet is really an indignity. I mean, I put Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection to shame! Call it an “occupational hazard” from having been a shoe model ever since I could walk in heels…

8 ) – Be more generous with my time when it comes to my friends and family. I am pretty spoiled in that department, what with having grown up an only child and still being a single girl. Whoever wrote that “Busy is the new Popular” was right! We sometimes forget that our time is a precious gift and should be treated as such, especially when dealing with loved ones. We can always give more.

9 ) – Watch less TV, particularly during the winter months, and read more! Books can be the source of our most colorful fantasies. Movies and sitcoms can never fill our dreams the way a good novel can. My current read, an amazingly touching and brilliantly written book, is Kiran Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss”. I will be sorry to see it end.

10) – Meet the man of my dreams… Hey, I am happy to be single while I am single, but can always see my life in the company of a fabulous, strong, handsome, intelligent, witty and secure man! I totally enjoy the journey I am on, but that does not mean I NEVER want to reach the destination! I mean, I am by no means planning to be single all my life and this blog ain’t called “Learn How To Be a Nun in Modern-Day NYC”!?! I am just holding out for the RIGHT one, as spending time with someone in any way less than that seems like a lot of energy wasted…

So, last but not least, HAPPY NEW YEAR and N-joy!

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Oui & Ole’: Belgian and Mexican Chocolate

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

This week’s choice of chocolates is one of those brands that just offer fantastic selection, at great prices, yet is still the kind of stuff that one gives away to the most cherished of our friends! The Leonidas store on Madison Avenue in NYC has been in business since 1991 and enticing palates everywhere since then. Their chocolates are simple yet gourmet, easy yet flavorful and quite elegant. They go by the weight, unless buying their signature holiday lollipops which are $3.75 each and make great napkin holders for an elegant yet festive table. The chocolates run $32 per pound and trust me, a pound goes a long way with this rich, scrumptious, deeply cocoa-filled chocolate. Available in both dark and milk, with some white chocolate bon-bons thrown in for color, it is the perfect chocolate for the holidays, for giving as well as receiving. My tip, go and buy some to give and pick up a little clear plastic envelope filled with chocolates for yourself… My favorites are the dark chocolate covered candied orange peels. Click on Leonidas Online for more info.

I have been craving a hot chocolate these days almost daily. My suggestion, for something a bit more thick during the cold days of December, is the Mexican hot chocolate. Spiced with cinnamon and vanilla and sometimes including some almond meal for thickness, it is a true warming beverage. It can be easily ordered online from the Mexican Grocer or try to find it in your own local Hispanic market. Even Whole Foods carries it at times. But to make this drink truly spectacular you will need a frother. This device is a little battery operated wire mesh which beats the hot milk/chocolate mixture and creates a layer of deliciously decadent foam on top. Try it from Bodum, available at Target or pick up a cheap one from Surprise Surprise in NYC. Heat up your milk, lowfat is just perfect, with the amount of chocolate recommended on the box, and then, once the milk is very hot, but not boiling, and the chocolate block completely melted, beat the mixture with your frother, taking care not to splash it about. Serve in a tall mug and N-joy!

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A Health Guide to the Holidays

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Ah, the stress of the holidays! Running in and out of shops looking for the right things to buy for all the fabulous people on our list. Sweating while in the subways and then having that same sweat freeze on our bodies when we finally emerge out of the station. Staying up late nights writing all the Christmas cards that we so dutifully send out every year. And finally, all those holiday parties where we end up eating and drinking way too much… It’s enough to make anyone sick! Well, all that and the unusually cold weather we have been experiencing here in the Northeast, really tested my immune system and – this past weekend – gave me a high fever, paired with aches and pains, a sore throat and the sniffles… But that is no news, and not even that interesting. So, you wonder, why is Nina writing about this on her blog? Because I want to share with you my health tips, for getting over this thing in nearly 24 hours and for allowing my body to recover without dragging on a sinus infection or even losing my carefully toned body in the process. OK, so maybe “carefully toned” is an overstatement, but it helps me in making my point! Read up, it could come in handy this winter, when the big bad bug might end up getting you too.

At the first sign of a sore throat, which is how mine started, buy some Oscillococcinum which is a homeopathic remedy I strongly believe in. It manages to give your body a little miniscule dose of the same toxins which might end up making you sick, and works on the same principles as a vaccine. I like it because it’s not invasive, doesn’t make me drowsy the way some of the other “cold & flu” medications do, and really, it has always worked for me. Once, a couple of years ago, I had flown to LA for my friend Jessica’s wedding and got sick the day before her big day. I couldn’t believe I could be that unlucky and had spent all that money to get out there, rent a car and stay in a hotel, just so I could spend the day in bed! So, after a nice little cry on my own, where I asked the powers that be why they were being so mean with me, I picked myself out of bed and stumbled across the street to Erewon, a local health food market. There I picked up some Oscillococcinum, a gallon of orange/strawberry juice mix – both antioxidants as well – ten packets of Emergen-C soluble vitamin C with minerals, and a cup of instant oatmeal. I retreated back to my hotel room, used my coffee maker to make the oatmeal and had a breakfast of that and half the container of juice. Then I took an Emergen-C packet in water, and waited the required 30 minutes before taking the Oscillo homeopathic pebbles. YES, this is very important, the pebbles need to be placed under your tongue on an empty mouth, which means drink nothing for at least 15 minutes, not even water, before and after, and eat nothing for 30 minutes before and after. Then, once the thirty minutes had gone by, I took two Extra Strength Tylenols and got under the covers. Slept a bit, cried a bit, and then, right about mid afternoon, I started to sweat and feel like a human being again. Seriously, not only did I got to Jessica’s wedding, but had a blast and danced up a storm in the process. You do the math!

So, follow the above directions of no liquids – hey, you can’t even brush your teeth – for 15 minutes before and after taking the Oscillo and then no food for 30 minutes before and after. Then, if you haven’t done so already, get some Emergen-C, which is a soluble and pleasant tasting multivitamin, very high on vitamin C. I keep a double box of 72 in my apartment at all times, and take it with me wherever I travel. It’s a good pick-me-up if you need an extra boost of energy in the afternoon, a good post-workout drink and a great way to take one’s multivitamins. I find that Whole Foods consistently has the best price for the stuff, at $15.99 for two boxes of 36 baggies. But some drugstores like Rite Aid and Duane Reade in NYC do run sales on it, so check around where you live.

Another fantastic vitamin, when your upper respiratory health starts to falter, is Zinc. It is best taken in lozenges which taste a notch better than raw chalk – hey, I tried it when I was a kid, and I’m not kidding! – but usually come flavored with all kinds of berries and vanilla, still making them pretty nasty once the overcoat melts away. But they do wonders for the mucous membranes, which means they are fantastic in case of a cold or sore throat. Up to six a day, in serious cases, are OK. But make sure to let them melt in your mouth only after a meal, or having eaten something, as they can be quite upsetting to the stomach. While still on the Zinc subject, I would like to introduce you to a special cure than has been called, officially, the “Russian Penicillin” – raw GARLIC. At the first signs of soreness or even exhaustion, garlic is a great cure. The way I like to ingest it, since I do wish to retain my friends and I am NOT looking to chase off vampires with my breath, is to dice a clove of garlic quite small, then place about a third of it in a large spoon, sprinkle with lemon juice, a dash of salt and olive oil, then swallow it, without chewing it. Repeat this action until all garlic is gone and do this about three times a day. Again, best not on an empty stomach, as it can be hard to digest. Seriously, between the lemon juice, the garlic and even the olive oil, it’s a cure-all! I know people who do this every evening and their skin, their hair and even their blood pressure are enviable.

When I get sick, the one drug I allow myself is Tylenol. I have grown up with the stuff, which has helped me through many a cramp, muscle pain and fever. But if that is not your choice, by all means, go with an aspirin – I am personally allergic to the coating in Bufferin for some strange reason – or even Motrin. All are valid, but I do recommend taking something to help break the fever. As much as I love natural remedies, the complete combination is what truly works. Whenever you can, climb into bed, turn on your heating pad and try to sleep. OK, I can hear the critics saying “It’s not healthy to fall asleep with a heating pad!” What I meant, is when you are not sleeping, use the heating pad to induce some sweat. Sweating is what will break the fever eventually. Sleep is the cure-all and if you feel like sleeping the whole day away, by all means do it! Your body is trying to tell you something. Listen to it. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid sweets and caffeine. Of course, do have a cup of tea or coffee here and there, as I am the first to become a total beast without it! Eat light small meals as often as you feel hungry, avoiding milk and dairy products which only produce more phlegm. Try a good vegetarian lunch of red lentils, boiled with garlic, onion and salt and with some turmeric added for color and taste, steamed broccoli sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil and a small piece of bread, or even crackers. A good chicken soup is also good, if you eat meat. You are trying to keep your body functioning since all our normal bodily functions do help in cleaning up the system of the infection, so try and stay away from rice, starches and sugars. If you really crave something, by all means have a little of it, like I just HAD TO HAVE a bowl of pasta, and knew that my body would keep craving it until I ate it. So, instead of eating a whole bunch of other stuff before finally satisfying my craving many meals later, I went straight for the pasta and avoided a lot of unnecessary calories. Every few hours, do take an Emergen-C packet in water. And don’t forget to continue taking the Oscillococcinum at least three times in the day.

After the first day – which will hopefully be the last day of the illness, if you follow this guide – take your old toothbrush and either throw it out or place it in hydrogen peroxide for an hour, to disinfect it. This will prevent your old germs from re-infecting you again. When you get up in the morning, do some yoga, since your body will feel sluggish and tight. For a simple routine to do every morning – I try to be pretty good about it as I can truly tell the difference between the days I do yoga and the days I don’t – check out Sun Salutation. It gives a step-by-step approach with photos. Well, all that is left for me to say is to take it easy when you first feel better. Your body still went through hell and what it wants of you is R & R – rest and relaxation. Try to read, watch a good, positive film and stay home as long as you can afford to. Sleep truly is the best medicine. SO, here’s to a healthy holiday season and a positively glowing New Year! N-joy!

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LOVE – One Word, Many Meanings

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

This week’s “Friend’s Corner” is really more of a “Man’s Opinion”, combined with a dash of an entry from “The List”, as well as a large dose of my own thoughts. I have been thinking lately of LOVE, both the word itself and the feeling. I had a few pangs of what I can only describe as romance emptiness, about a week ago, remembering the man I once loved and who inspired me to write my book, which in turn has inspired this blog. I realized that I will never love that way again, and to the collective gasp of my friends, probably never intend to do so. What I mean is that what I felt for him was a kind of love that sucked the energy out of my soul, confused and distracted me constantly and – four years after our breakup – still haunts me, yet fills my heart with yearning at times. Whoever said that getting over someone should only take a few months, never allowed for those bad days when the memories of that person feel like the last drops of love on earth. The spell of my melancholic and probably overly dramatic mood was broken by Master Paulo Coelho’s biweekly newsletter, which landed in my inbox exactly the day after my mini meltdown. It reminded me that in his infinite wisdom, Mr. Coelho refers to three types of love, in his book “The Pilgrimage” – Eros, Philos and Agape. All three words are Greek, but each mean a different side of love. Eros is the feeling of love that exists between two people who are lovers, while Philos is love in the form of friendship. The last, Agape, is the “love that consumes”. It is what great religious men have been sacrificed trying to prove. It’s the kind of love that one can never forget or recreate. It is a love that almost cannot be explained. You can imagine the letdown when I realized that in English, we have just one word to describe feelings of passion and admiration for another human being, as well as our personal likes and favorite things. We can love our parents, love our clothes, love our life and love our boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. It is all quite simply, “love”. In Italian, a “romance language”, we also have one word for love: Amore. It seems like way too much meaning for one little word to carry. I mean, I LOVE my expensive Manolo Blahnik shoes which I got for a fragment of their original cost at Neiman’s. I LOVE chocolate and anything and everything that involves cocoa. I LOVE India, Bollywood, Indian food, Delhi fashions and the people. I LOVE my mom. I LOVE my BFF and I even love NYC. But I LOVE all in such differing degrees, one word simply comes up short for me. Then I remembered that in Hindi there are at least four different words that translate into LOVE. They carry different degrees of the emotion, one more passionate, another more delicate, one neverending, while yet another innocent and pure. Amazing that I still can’t differentiate between the words for “give” and “take” after one and a half years of Hindi classes, but totally came away with the four different words for love! Of course, one can only learn what one is interested in learning… The four words are: “Pyar”, “Mohabbat”, “Prem” and “Ishq”. The following passage has been provided by my friend Rajiv-Ji, who, in the process, has shared a great resource for finding the meaning of any Hindi word.

“Here are some dictionary meanings as given on www.WordAnywhere.com. The good thing about this site is that you can type the Hindi word in phonetics and it gives you the translations in English.

Mohabbat – Meaning: 1. love 2. affection 3. friendship 4. fondness

Prem – Meaning: 1. love 2. affection 3. kindness 4. tender regard

Ishq – Meaning: 1. love 2. passion

Pyar – Meaning: 1. fondness 2. affection 3. love 4. attachment”

Thank you, Rajiv-Ji! So, in closing, I wish to share with you the email newsletter that landed in my mailbox at the exact moment it was needed. I always knew that Paulo Coelho was a magus, but never realized how personal his magical help would get. I apologize to Master Coelho for reprinting it here, but urge everyone who reads it to pass it on, and subscribe to his biweekly gems by going to www.PauloCoelho.com, finding the English page and clicking on the “Warrior of the Light” link.

Convention of those wounded in love

General provisions:
A – Whereas the saying “all is fair in love and war” is absolutely correct;
B – Whereas for war we have the Geneva Convention, approved on 22 August 1864, which provides for those wounded in the battle field, but until now no convention has been signed concerning those wounded in love, who are far greater in number;
It is hereby decreed that:
Article 1 – All lovers, of any sex, are alerted that love, besides being a blessing, is also something extremely dangerous, unpredictable and capable of causing serious damage. Consequently, anyone planning to love should be aware that they are exposing their body and soul to various types of wounds, and that they shall not be able to blame their partner at any moment, since the risk is the same for both.
Article 2 – Once struck by a stray arrow fired from Cupid’s bow, they should immediately ask the archer to shoot the same arrow in the opposite direction, so as not to be afflicted by the wound known as “unrequited love”. Should Cupid refuse to perform such a gesture, the Convention now being promulgated demands that the wounded partner remove the arrow from his/her heart and throw it in the garbage. In order to guarantee this, those concerned should avoid telephone calls, messages over the Internet, sending flowers that are always returned, or each and every means of seduction, since these may yield results in the short run but always end up wrong after a while. The Convention decrees that the wounded person should immediately seek the company of other people and try to control the obsessive thought: “this person is worth fighting for”.
Article 3 – If the wound is caused by third parties, in other words if the loved one has become interested in someone not in the script previously drafted, vengeance is expressly forbidden. In this case, it is allowed to use tears until the eyes dry up, to punch walls or pillows, to insult the ex-partner in conversations with friends, to allege his/her complete lack of taste, but without offending their honor. The Convention determines that the rule contained in Article 2 be applied: seek the company of other persons, preferably in places different from those frequented by the other party.
Article 4 – In the case of light wounds, herein classified as small treacheries, fulminating passions that are short-lived, passing sexual disinterest, the medicine called Pardon should be applied generously and quickly. Once this medicine has been applied, one should never reconsider one’s decision, not even once, and the theme must be completely forgotten and never used as an argument in a fight or in a moment of hatred.
Article 5 – In all definitive wounds, also known as “breaking up”, the only medicine capable of having an effect is called Time. It is no use seeking consolation from fortune-tellers (who always say that the lost lover will return), romantic books (which always have a happy ending), soap-operas on the television or other such things. One should suffer intensely, completely avoiding drugs, tranquilizers and praying to saints. Alcohol is only tolerated if kept to a maximum of two glasses of wine a day.
Final determination: Those wounded in love, unlike those wounded in armed conflict, are neither victims nor torturers. They chose something that is part of life, and so they have to accept both the agony and the ecstasy of their choice.
And those who have never been wounded in love will never be able to say: “I have lived”. Because they haven’t.”

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New Delhi Revamped and Reloaded

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

The very first article I had on my blog, was this one on New Delhi, India, which I consider my own special shopping mecca. Since I ran this, nearly seven months ago, Indians – and Delhi, as their official fashion capital – have acquired their own edition of Vogue, complete with Indian top models and designers. The very first issue came out in October and was immediately sold out. The only place to find it these day is on Ebay and it doesn’t come cheap. But I suggest grabbing the November 2007 – second issue at Ink, the international newsstand on Avenue A, between 4th and 5th, right here in NYC. The magazine is a fashion dreamer’s fantasy come true, filled with bright colors and imaginative editorials, while still not lacking true fashionistas favorites like Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton. Anyway, the point I am making here is that India is forever evolving and constantly reinventing itself, more and more as a global superpower to contend with on every level. Just as Indian Vogue doesn’t come cheap to us on this side of the globe, neither does India anymore. Hotels in the cities are nearing record rates and the clothes that used to make it worth it to travel with an empty suitcase – to be filled in Delhi or Bombay, of course – are now at big-name American designer prices. But the shops and places I list below are still somewhat affordable and there are ways to get accommodations that won’t cost as much for one night as your whole month’s rent in NYC. For information and help in planning your India trip, do check out www.DekhoMyIndia.com and then contact Mr.Rajiv Bajaj, at his own personal email (cut and paste this one) rb@interface-india.com. Interface is an inbound and outbound travel agency based in Delhi, which operates in conjunction with the website. Mr. Bajaj can help in organizing a more custom tailored trip, as well as simply helping with hotel reservations and air tickets. So, read up and don’t forget to go to Itunes, then click on Imix and check out the Curry Hill soundtrack from HUEA. It is just as appropriate while reading this week’s column. N-joy!

“Delhi is one of my favorite shopping cities on earth and the home of Indian fashion. As much as Bombay is touted by many as a fabulous spot to shop, I have not found there the incredible quality and luxury I am able to find – at relatively affordable prices – in Delhi. It is a great destination for a single girl and a friend, to experience someplace really exotic, without straying too far off the map. Hotels and their services in India are always first quality, as long as one stays away from the backpackers’ quarters. And if you can’t find a friend to go with you, by all means, go by yourself. I did, and had the time of my life!

HOW TO GET THERE: Since Continental Airlines began their nonstop service from Newark International to Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi just about two years ago, it has never been so easy to fly to India for a long weekend. I checked rates for peak tourist season in January 2008 and a round trip ticket for a nine-days stay – HEY, that’s my idea of a long weekend! – will run about $1,250, which is a good deal. For stopover flights, check out Orbitz as they offer fares as low as $750. The convenience of Orbitz is that you can book the hotel there as well, saving a bundle in the process. But beware that they do not offer many good quality choices. January is a great time to visit Delhi. You might even catch one of the multitudes of wedding processions that run through the city streets, in the early evenings. Keep a lookout for white horses and large luminaries and you should be able to view this thrilling spectacle. The only thing to remember is that even if the weather in Delhi is never NYC or London cold, it does get quite chilly and foggy during the night, and in the early morning hours. So, bring along a nice, long, stylish sweater. DKNY makes a “cozy” that is well… how shall I put it… cozy! For you gents out there, a warmer jacket is good. No need to pack a windbreaker as those do NOT look good anywhere except, of course, on a sailboat.

WHERE TO STAY: Call me spoiled, but I have never been one to stay at cheap hotels. I just don’t want to bring home fleas, bedbugs and intestinal parasites as souvenirs. I would rather spend a little more, and feel safe. Plus, for two women traveling alone, or even a single girl, it is better to have the security of a good, reputable place, not to mention the allure of going down to breakfast in the morning to a glorious buffet or even sauntering down for a late night drink with some newfound friends.

The Taj Palace Hotel Taj Palace Hotel is located on Sardar Patel Marg, in the Diplomatic Enclave. Slightly out of the way, but at $365 a night, a great bargain for luxury in Delhi. Its sister hotel, the Taj Mansingh, now sports rates of $700 per night. Taj Palace is wonderful and has an added perk of being right next door to the Sheraton Hotel, with its fabulous Bukhara restaurant, quite possibly the best Indian restaurant in the world. Just ask for a free transfer service to the Sheraton and enjoy having two hotels for the price of one.

The Ambassador is located in Sujan Singh Park, Cornwallis Road, near Lodi Gardens. It is slightly more central than the Taj Palace and it belongs to the same Taj Group of hotels, which always makes for a luxurious experience. It used to be a great hotel for the money, but now is just another good choice, since the rates have gone up considerably. At this time, it appears to be sold out for all of January and February.

The Ashok Hotel is located in Chanakayapuri, right across from one of my favorite shopping centers, Santushti Complex. That makes it convenient when trying to get there, which requires a quick jaunt across the traffic circle, and the rate is $300 per day for two, including breakfast, for a room on the Club (executive) floor. Most Indian professionals coming to Delhi for business stay at the Ashok. It is a large, comfortable hotel. I cannot recommend it personally as I have not stayed there. But I have never heard bad things about it.

WHERE TO EAT: I always have breakfast at the hotel where I am staying. Even if it is not included in the price of the room – which is quite rare – it is worth the money charged, as it will usually take you through the day. Here are a few fabulous places, most are much more fun for dinner.

Tea House of August Moon is located in the Taj Palace. Probably the best Chinese food I have ever had, but definitely the best in India. Obviously devoid of MSG – which I could tell from the conspicuous absence of a Chinese food headache – portions here are moderate and the prices not too bad. The ambiance is great and private, even if you do end up eating on your own. The service is good and unobtrusive. While in Taj Palace, check out the new Orient Express, with a dining room inspired by the famous – and infamous – train.

Yellow Brick Road in the Ambassador Hotel. It is the typical coffee shop in an Indian hotel, but fun atmosphere and good food. I have not been but it comes highly recommended.

Bukhara in the Maurya Sheraton is probably my favorite spot in all of India. It is tandoori cooking at its best and although I try to be vegetarian when I travel, I am addicted to the lamb shank, which literally melts off the bone. Have never had a bad meal there, even if the bill can be a bit high, for Indian standards (still cheaper than most NYC restaurants!) Service is fabulous, even if one is forcibly encouraged to wear a checkered bib to avoid indelible masala food stains.

Basil & Thyme at Santushti Market, is quite convenient when shopping the complex. It is popular with “kitty parties” meaning a group of ladies who get together to chat and have fun. Nice rest spot for a quiet lunch. Mixed cuisine, with Indian flair.

NIGHTLIFE: Yes, there is a lot of that these days in Delhi. It is no longer necessary to go to Bombay or Goa for a hip night out. My favorite bar – and I promise I do a lot more shopping in Delhi than drinking – is the Dublin Pub inside the Maurya Sheraton Hotel. It’s a fun place, where the atmosphere is truly relaxed and very pub-like. There is music and lots of cute people, so worth checking out. For more of the night and bar scene check out this article from the NY Times.

SIGHTSEEING: I highly recommend reading and printing out another NY Times article titled “India Made Easy” by Jonathan Allen. Click on the article title above to quickly access the page. It was published in the March 25th, 2007 travel section and it is the best I have read, as far as guiding the visitor to places worth seeing and sometimes overlooked. It focuses on Delhi and surroundings. It is worth more than any travel book you can buy.

WHERE TO SHOP: Ahhhh, where to begin!? Delhi is a serious shopping city and deciding where to start is always difficult for me. But no matter where one starts, I suggest going over to India with an empty suitcase. Travel only with the clothes on your back and maybe a slightly dressier outfit for the first day. After that, Delhi will take care of dressing you for many, many months to come.

Khan Market is an upscale place, very popular with expats. There is a lovely coffee shop, Barista, where one can rest and people watch all the stylish women passing by in their embroidered outfits and the outfit of the moment, a kurta – shirt – with jeans and heels. The stores in the complex include Anokhi, great for block print outfits and home furnishings at really good prices, a few great and inexpensive sunglass places, many fabulous bookstores, a body wellness shop in the back, near the grocery stands, that sells fantastic “Forest Essentials” products, and then, on the very inside alley, where one cannot believe any place worth good money could be, the best shops in the complex, Amrapali, a jeweler famous for ethnic silver as well as Maharani-inspired stunning gold pieces, and Ogaan, a very hip shop with fashions worthy of upscale stores in the US. A great place to start. But no bargaining here. Prices are fixed.

Santushti is, as I mentioned in my eating guide, a wonderful place. There aren’t too many shops, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Anokhi has a good size shop there and Ogaan has the best of its three locations in the complex. Also, not a place to bargain.

Dilli Haat is an outdoor market, with Indian crafts from all over the country. They do change the vendors every two weeks, so it’s always fun to go and see what is new there. The best place to buy pashminas and Kashmiri scarves. And here is where all your bargaining prowess can be exercised. Start low, and reach a comfortable price together with the merchant. Also, it a has a very good ethnic food court, safe and clean enough to be worthy of trying. Check out the kebabs and the dosas there. Wash it all down with a mango lassi.

The Craft Museum near Pragati Maidan, is worth a visit inside and outside. Once finished with the permanent exhibits, the visitor is invited to view the current displays by the artisans invited there for the month. It is a hit or miss kind of thing, as I have come away with a wonderful embroidered choli (a backless shirt worn by Gujarati gypsy women) or empty handed. But their permanent shop, inside, has good prices on cards and little nic-nacs.

Central Cottage Industries Emporium near Janpath and Connaught Place, is a five story establishment where one can find many different things. No bargaining, as all are fixed prices and the line to pay is always long and tedious. But it is a good place to get one’s bearings for the right amount to pay when buying somewhere else. I find it a bit pricey, but did not come away empty handed from there either, as it was the only store where I could find a long black skirt to match a Ritu Kumar top I bought in Bombay…

Haus Khas has designer Ritu Kumar’s shop and the third location of Ogaan. All are worth visiting, as all carry different merchandise and styles. Don’t be put off by the dusty little alleys of the place, as there are treasures around every corner. Ritu Kumar is great for colorful kurtas (shirts) and great Delhi style. You will be stopped by Indian women asking where you bought your wonderful top, whenever you wear Mrs. Kumar’s designs.

My current favorite designers are Rathore Jodhpur and Anuradha Vakil, the later designed the female protagonist’s clothes for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s new masterpiece “Saawariya”. If in doubt, click above on the name of the film and you will be entering a world of color, superb taste and unbelievable fantasy. Rathore’s flowing silk clothes in pastel colors were featured at a fashion show in Bryant Park this summer, to celebrate the 60th year of India’s independence. Ms. Vakhil is originally Gujarati, which explains her flair for muted, dark colors and long, dramatic silhouettes. Another fave of the moment is Anamika Khanna, who has a knack for offbeat clothes, with a bright splash of unexpected color. If you are lucky enough to live in NYC, you can check out some of the designs, though in a very limited assortment, at Indomix on Mulberry Street. Otherwise, while in Delhi, head to Haus Khas or GK Market for more assortment. Lastly, but very important, is the Happily Unmarried line of items for the home, all inspired by the “bachelor lifestyle” – for men and women of course! You can check out their line, as well as get shop locations in several Indian cities, by clicking on the link I have listed to the right, under “Friends”.

Baba Kharak Singh Marg is near Connaught Place and is where all the State’s Emporia are located. Worth walking down the street, also to view the Hindu temple across from the shops. Some shops are dusty and devoid of anything of value, but still some carry good merchandise.

There are many, many more places to go like Connaught Place itself, G.K Market’s M & N blocks in South Delhi and all the hotels have fabulous little shops, though many very pricey. Always check the local papers – Times of India is the best – for sample sales and “exhibition-cum-sale”. Some can be real treasure troves. The one thing I suggest is never asking the taxi driver to wait for you. And never accepting that a place is “Closed due to state holiday” or “Traffic jam there, Madam” since this is a ploy to get you to go to their shop, where they will be paid a commission for all that you purchase. A great big – though always kind in tone – “NO” is necessary when they suggest this. On the way back, no matter where your hotel is located, it is easy to get an auto rickshaw on the street, and a really fun experience to try while in Delhi. Taxi drivers must use a meter, even if they never want to, so ask your hotel doorman to insist for the meter, and check before leaving the hotel grounds that it has been turned on. When catching a rickshaw, bargain for a price before getting in. Usually, they are quite fair – always a bad apple in the bunch though – and so cheap that it is not worth haggling too much.

Now that I have given you my inside tricks for enjoying Delhi, you have nothing left to do but book the trip, pack your beauty case, and take your empty suitcase with you on the adventure of a lifetime. N-JOY!”

Hope this was helpful. Of course, I am always open to suggestions and recommendations. If you have a favorite spot you wish to share with others, do write in by using the contact page of this blog.

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Rockin’ Gift Ideas

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

The craziness of the holiday shopping season is here, in full blast. The atmosphere at the department stores is worse than at a wrestling match in Southern Turkey, grown – and otherwise polite – women tackling each other over the last pink and blue leather Juicy Couture bag is the order of the day and I don’t sweat as much on my daily jog around the park as I do stepping inside some of those overheated stores in the Time Warner Center. And, through this chaos, there are still so many gifts to buy, or one risks facing the irascibility of one’s friends and family. The following is by no means a foolproof shopping companion to satisfy all those names on your list, but it gets the ball rolling on the ideas. The rest, is up to you. Take my example and create gifts with a theme. And roll with that theme for nearly all those you need to shop for. It makes it more pleasant and faster for you and all your loved ones will think that you are very creative. The following gifts ideas are best presented in large, festively colored bags, but should be individually wrapped or hidden inside some tissue paper. A large bow and a heartfelt card should complete the package.

THE BOLLYWOOD PACKAGE
You know there cannot be an entry on my weekly blog that does not, in some way, deal with this exotic passion of mine. The thing is, I have never met anyone who could not be swayed towards this endearing and charming style of filmmaking and did not enjoy – even if secretly, of course – the entertainment factor it so easily provides. In NYC, it’s easy to put this present together. If you do not live in NYC, following the description of the gift you will find the addresses of some websites that can help you shop for all the stuff online. Just do this well ahead of time to avoid the disappointment of a holiday gift delivered after Christmas. For more info on the names of the stores mentioned, click on the “Curry Hill Adventure”. Anyway, start out with a couple of great Hindi films from Sangeet House on Lexington Avenue. Ask the lovely Siva – the gentleman who runs the store – for suggestions depending on the person you are shopping for, or follow my list here. For men, anything that has more action, which include the films “Dhoom 2″, “Dus” – Ten – “Bluffmaster”, “Zinda” – Alive – and even the wonderfully Tarantino inspired “Shootout at Lokhandwala”. For young girls – here’s where Bollywood is fabulous because it doesn’t deal with sex and drugs and all those subjects one would rather drink poison than talk about with a teenager girl – choose younger, more magical themes, like “Paheli”, “Hum Tum” – You, Me – “Bunty Aur Babli”, “Jaan-e-Mann” – Love of My Heart – and the audience favorite “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” – Slowly, It Happens. For the intellectual who just could never possibly be swayed this way, try some of the Mani Ratman movies like “Guru”, “Dil Se” – From the Heart – and “Yuva”, which are masterpieces, as well as others like “Rang de Basanti”, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Black” and “Devdas”, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Hindi versions of “Macbeth” – titled “Maqbool” – and “Othello” – titled “Omkara” – and even Deepa Mehta’s films “Fire”, “1947 – Earth” and “Water” which are absolutely not Bollywood and don’t anyone dare to call them that. My current favorite is Rajat Kapoor’s thought-provoking “Mixed Doubles”, which will keep them thinking about it for weeks. For the couples in your life, try “Salaam-e-Ishq” – Hello to Love – “Parineeta” – the Bride – Dil Chahta Hai – What the Heart Wants – and “Fanaa” – Destroyed. And finally, for the more fun loving, hipper friends, try out the newer batch of Hindi films, less Bollywood and very arthouse, like “Bheja Fry”, again “Mixed Doubles”, “Manorama – Six Feet Under”, “Living in a Metro”, “Dilli Heights” and if you want them to laugh out loud, the very funny, almost bordering on silly, Hindi version of the film “Hitch” titled “Partner”. Once you have put together the movies, time to do the music. You have a choice of getting the CDs, or giving then a gift card for Itunes, so your loved ones can download the music they liked best from the films you gave them, or even try out something completely different.. Another good part of the gift would be a six month membership to I-Talkies, so they can rent out a few different films, stuff to include old favorites as well as South Indian movies, rarely seen in this part of the world. Once done with the entertainment, your gift should include some food and possibly a recipe book. I love Madhur Jaffey’s books on Indian cuisine, available at Amazon, because she manages to make everything sound easy. But if you don’t want to invest in a book, you can easily download a couple of recipes from the internet, print them on pretty paper and tie them in the middle with a piece of colorful ribbon. Remember, this is the “Bollywood Gift” so all wrapping should have a lot of color and at least one marigold flower. For the food part of the gift, get some of Kalustyan’s own “Mixed Pickle”, a good Paratha – aloo, which is potato, or methi, fenugreek leaves are my favorites – some microwave popcorn (hey, Trader Joe’s is fine for that! And get microwave, way easier, your friends will thank you for it!) and a box of spices called “Chaat Masala” to sprinkle on the popcorn. Seriously guaranteed to turn any film into a Bollywood hit! While in Curry Hill, go to Butala Emporium and pick up a little incense holder, they have a variety to choose from. And finally, go to Ricky’s and get some Votivo incense, which should ideally be a rose, jasmine or sandalwood scent. Now, your gift should be complete. For Bollywood movies to buy online go to Neha Flix and for Butala Emporium click on Butala Online and for Kalustyan’s click on Kalustyans.com.

THE CHOCOLATE ADDICTION
This gift probably works best for those friends who have just gone through a terrible breakup, or are simply not ever watching their waistline… Otherwise, forgo for other choices. A good place to start is by visiting a really good chocolatier, like Jacques Torres, Mariebelle, Leonida’s and even Godiva. Pick out a nice box of about 12 bon bons and if they have it there, a good hot chocolate mix to suit your friend’s or family member’s taste. If you wish to find some cheaper hot chocolate mix, then Green and Black’s have a great one, available at health food stores, and even local Hispanic stores sell a good Mexican hot chocolate mix, with almond and cinnamon mixed in. If you don’t have a Hispanic mart in your town, you should still be able to find it in Whole Foods… We all know there is one of those EVERYWHERE. Good alternatives to expensive bon bons are also chocolate bars, with Dagoba being the best quality, but Lindt – at the supermarket – in dark, mint and orange are also amazing. To put the whole package together, use a brown paper bag, fill it with all the various chocolate, then add a carton of 2 % milk – the kind they sell which doesn’t need to be refrigerated until opened – a nice mug of your choice, which you can find here in NYC at places like Surprise Surprise and even Macy’s, some cinnamon for garnish, and a nice box of cookies, possibly chocolate covered. You are good to go. For more info on chocolate, or even if you wish to add a more wicked version with all the ingredients for a Chocolate Martini, go to the “Chocolate Corner” of this site.

THE BEAUTY TREAT
This is probably the easiest one to overspend on. I mean, all you have to do is set foot inside Ricky’s or Sephora and just the sheer act of entering the store makes you a couple of hundred dollars poorer. But it is a good gift to give, since you will never find a girl – or boy even! – who does not enjoy pampering herself. This can always be combined with the following gift to create a Spa/Beauty thing… It’s not a crime to mix and match… Actually, you can combine this with the Bollywood package as well, since many Indian groceries sell plenty of masks and hair treatment to suit each and every person’s needs. And some of those treatments have been around for hundreds of years. Anyway, I believe that every beauty gift should include a cellulite or slimming cream. I have never met a woman who didn’t enjoy or think she needed one. My favorite is a product I found at Drugstore.com called Green Canyon Spa. It’s only around $15 for three pieces, including two creams and a massager, which is the best thing to combat unsightly bumps. You can include a brush, my fave is by Denman, a paddle brush for around $17 available at Ricky’s. A nice hair mask, either scented coconut oil or the Avocado Mask from Burt’s Bees – this comes with its own bonnet and comb! You can include directions for a good hair treatment, which include heating up the coconut oil and brushing the scalp at least 30 times for good circulation and hair regrowth. For a good face cream, or oil, you can try Bio-Oil – also available at Drugstore.com – which works really well for the winter months, and include a bottle of rose water. Even the edible kind from the ethnic grocers are great! The final touch can be a couple of cool make up shades, a good lipgloss, some cream blush and eye pencils, Sephora makes great shades, all made in the same factories as some of the pricier stuff, but all really really affordable. Of course, packaging is very important here, so splurge on a nice bag and card from Papyrus.

THE RELAX PACKAGE AT HOME
A lot of the same things from the above gift can go into this, but I would not include make up. Start with some bath products, like a good milk soak, or even oatmeal, which is great for winter dry skin. Buy some lavender and chamomile essential oils, to add to the bath, with instruction written by you, if you wish. It makes a nice touch to have the little directions on nice, computer printed paper. A good pair of pretty slippers or cashmere socks will also be impressive. For more products, like a face mask to apply while in the bath, good bubble baths and even a great, emollient body cream as a finishing touch, Kiehl’s is good. The products are always reliable and you can ask for samples to include in the package. I don’t know why, but samples sometimes are even more fun than full sized products! Put you gift in a basket or a soothing colored bag, fill it with lightly colored tissue paper and you’ve got a “spa in a basket” so to speak!

THE NEW COUPLE’S REDLIGHT SPECIAL
This works only for those who insist on being in a relationship. I mean, don’t they know how much fun life is us single people?! But anyway, you know I speak only from… envy!! I mean, if you find the right guy, or girl, hold on to him or her tightly. Love is a wonderful thing. And it makes it so easy to shop for those who are in love! This gift is also good for any of your girlfriends who are getting married. It makes for some great conversation when opened. Hopefully, if the couple open it together, talking should be the very last thought on their minds… Start with a really sexy, really bright but not gaudy lacy thong. I have done extensive market research with some of my male friends – well one actually – and the lace thong is what gets the most attention. On and off… Anyway, once that perfect thong has been discovered, the rest is easy. Include some edible sparkling body powder – Sephora sells the Urban Decay one which comes in three delicious flavors. A couple of mini candles from Pacifica, which come in glass containers to avoid one of your couple friends igniting more than just passion. Get some Votivo incense which smells and burns the best, without being overwhelming and voila! You’ve got the package. You can optionally include some sexy games, but seriously, once the undies and the body powder are on, they’ll be making up their own games just fine!

THE TRAVEL BACKPACK
As the name indicates, start out with a backpack. This is a good gift for a friend who is constantly on the go, or even someone who will be taking their first big trip soon. If you know your friend’s destination, even better, as you can include a good guide book of the country they’ll be visiting. Otherwise, do start with a backpack with wheels. It’s not so easy to find, but the very best on tired traveling shoulders. Choose a dark color, avoid the temptation to go pink or orange, as those colors get old after a while and you won’t have to live with it, your friend will. Fill the backpack with a pretty – albeit light – notebook, which they can use as a travel log. If you have the means, do include a tiny MP3 player, possibly already filled with lots of fun music from your own collection. It doesn’t have to be the new Ipod Nano, just a simple device that you know will be compatible with her/his computer. Add some good foot balm, as the first thing to go on a trip are the feet. Kiehl’s has a good “Callous Areas” cream. A good sunscreen, some light reading material, a good map – again if you know where they are going – and some candy. Include some ginger candy from Trader Joes which is fantastic on a queasy stomach or for any motion sickness. Lavender essential oil is also great for relaxing when the jetlag is playing tricks on the traveler’s body. Well, that’s my Holiday shopping list! Hope it helps…

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Your Personal Haircolor Expert

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

My friend Virginia sent me this link to the new L’Oreal interactive hair and beauty website. The haircoloring section is pretty amazing stuff, for those of us who enjoy coloring and taking care of our own hair, at considerable savings! I am planning to add some highlights soon, and will certainly consult the site on that. Christophe Robin, the haircolor expert, actually speaks to you as he helps you sort through the treatments and shades just right for your hair! And he does so in a lovely French accent that is bound to make you want to dye your hair all kinds of shades – but only L’Oreal, of course! It is truly an interactive experience and has not yet been advertised to the general public. So, click on L’Oreal Paris and be among the first to have a blast!

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Great Truffles and Wicked Martinis – Just in time for Easter…

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Recently, I was lucky enough to try some of the truffles from Moonstruck Chocolate. It was on a cold NYC morning inside Whole Foods, and I was blown away. The kind I tried wasn’t all dark chocolate, and I usually shy away from anything that may be milky or too caramel-ly. But this was great chocolate. For Easter they have a collection of Ladybugs, tiny Country Critters truffles and a Vintage milk-chocolate Bunny… For the Christmas season they have very “Festivus” Ginger and Eggnog truffles, as well as an Extra-Bittersweet Holiday truffle, which is divine. But their holidays span year-round and their catalogue includes cool and funny Halloween designs, as well as lovely and romantic Valentine’s Day chocolates. Do give them a try, by clicking on the Moonstruck website.

And now, this is not your childhood, innocent little chocolate bon bon! It’s a very adult, very serious Chocolate Martini, the ultimate in grown-up decadence and alcoholic fun! It has a way to warm your heart and more. Try it, what have you got to loose?!

DEATH BY CHOCOLATE MARTINIS

3 oz vanilla vodka
1/2 oz Frangelico® hazelnut liqueur
3 oz creme de cacao
1 tbsp sweetened cocoa powder
2 cherries with stem – jar cherry preferred

Fill two cocktail glasses with ice water; set aside. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add vanilla vodka, creme de cacao, and Frangelico hazelnut liqueur. Shake vigorously. Empty glasses of ice water, and dip edges into a flat dish filled with sweetened cocoa powder. Put one cherry in each glass and strain the contents of the cocktail shaker over them.

One last thing… N-joy!

Top image courtesy of Moonstruck Chocolatiers

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